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As soon as everyone was sitting in their seats and had buckled up their safety belts for the return flight from Riga to Tel Aviv, Israel Football Association (IFA) chairman Avi Luzon and national team coach Dror Kashtan, who were sitting together in the front row, began calculating what Israel needs to do in order to qualify for the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa.

Minutes after take-off, Luzon and Kashtan pulled down the table in front of them, found a piece of scrap paper and started their calculations. While most of the players in the seats behind them were unable to sleep, Kashtan and Luzon were looking for the formula that would ensure Israel's qualification.


Even after the disappointing draw against Latvia, there was still a great deal of optimism that South Africa is still on the cards - perhaps because of the Swiss victory in Greece. According to the Luzon-Kashtan plan, Israel, which already has eight points in the bag, will win its four remaining home fixtures, including victory over Greece, and manage draws in the away games against Greece and Switzerland, ending up with a total of 22 points.

Greece, which currently has nine points, is expected to win all three of its games against the group's weaker teams (Luxembourg, Latvia and Moldova), will lose in Israel and end the group with a home draw against Israel and an away draw against Switzerland - finishing with 20 points.

In this optimistic scenario, the last game of the campaign, between Israel and Switzerland, will effectively be a playoff, with the winner qualifying for South Africa. The Swiss, who currently have seven points, should win their four clashes against the three group minnows, draw at home against Greece and need just a draw against Israel in the last game to qualify automatically for the World Cup.

Optimism rules

According to Luzon and Kashtan's calculations, defeat for Israel against Switzerland would mean that the Swiss travel to South Africa and Israel will need to go through the playoffs.

After finalizing their plan, Kashtan and Luzon got up and made their way to the middle of the plane. With a smile on his face, the IFA chairman told anyone who would listen: "Don't worry - I have the plans for Israel's qualification. You can be optimistic, we'll make it to South Africa without having to go through the playoffs."

On hearing the plan, assistant coach Moshe Sinai at first called it "realistic," but, when he realized that it depended on Israel beating Greece at home, and reminded Luzon that Israel didn't even manage to beat Luxembourg in the first encounter between them.

"If you're frightened," Luzon replied angrily, "you can have my seat in the VIP box and I will sit next to Dror and run the game. I promise you this: We can tear apart any team at home; even Maccabi Petah Tikva can beat Luxembourg at Ramat Gan."



http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1029360.html
 

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It actually is quite realistic but you can never rule exceptional results out. Who would have thought Switzerland could get points in tough away games in Athens and Tel Aviv while losing at home to Luxembourg? The plan sounds realistic but does not calculate on any similar surprises. It would surprise me if none of those small teams would grab any points, Moldova and Latvia especially will probably not end without getting a few more points. Must add: the plan sounds realistic because especially at home, Israel is less likely to drop unexpected points than the other two contenders.
 

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We need to take 4 points from Greece, beat the 3 group minnows at home, and get a result in Switzerland. It's that simple. Switzerland plays better away from home, so an Israeli victory in Basel is not out of the question.

Switzerland won in Greece and I'm not surprised about that. From their point of view, their backs were against the wall and they had nothing to lose. But the pressure will only build up towards the end of the campaign, then it will truly be "money time". If they couldn't beat Luxembourg at home, I would like to see how they play Israel at money time. Even though Israel don't play well under pressure, it doesn't seem like Switzerland does either...

Greece, on the other hand, will be an easier opponent than the Swiss and I will explain. On paper, Israel has the best offense in group two. Greece has the oldest line-up in the group. They're much slower than us and that's our major advantage, speed. Their line-up will be a little older & slower in the next 5 months. As long as Ben Sahar starts, our offense will exploit that weakness. It reminds me of Beitar's defense, no offense. Beitar has a good team, but their defense is old and slow. In the case of Greece, the majority of their line-up is relatively old. Their strength is their chemistry and experience, but they're old & slow. Their reserves have very little or no international experience at all and that's also an advantage. It's like walking on thin ice. Greece play well against teams that they should beat, but they choke against bigger teams. We saw that at Euro 2008 and against Switzerland. I believe we have a good chance of getting at least 4 points from them.

As for Kashtan, the guy is a real d!ck. He obviously didn't want the U-21 team to advance to the Euro and he made sure of it. He called up Itay Shechter for the first time, even though he didn't need him and he didn't even play him at all. He brings in Bozaglo and Sahar in the last 10 minutes when the game seems to be over. He really didn't need those 3 and I'm sure that, with those 3, the U-21 would be heading to the Euro.
 

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It is a pity the U21 did not progress but, I would not dramatise this. I may be alone with this opinion, but I do think the senior squad gets absolute priority and thus that it is justified to call up a young player for the senior team even if this weakens the U21. However, what I do blame to coach for is that he calls up those players and then lets them play only a 5 minutes in Latvia. If you call them up instead of leaving them for the U21: perfectly fine, but at least give them at least a half on the pitch, otherwise it was pointless to take them away from the U21 squad. That is what I mean when I wrote that the draw in Latvia is more bad luck than bad coaching, but that the substitutes were a bit weird.

That said... Israel now has had the 3 smaller teams away from home. Beating Moldova and Luxembourg and drawing Latvia, that means a 7 out of 9 away from home. Definitely not bad, and it is mainly bad luck (shot on the bar from Barda) that it is not a 9 out of 9. I strongly believe that at home in Ramat Gan, Israel can beat anyone. So I do believe that Israel will beat Greece, and get 9/9 against the minnows at home (including a goal festival against Luxembourg in order to get the goal difference in our advantage as well... Israel has +3 while Greece has +7, but a 5-0 or 6-0 at home vs Luxembourg would Israel bring on top in terms of goal difference as well)

The key will be to not lose in Greece and Switzerland. At home I am confident Israel will win its remaining games. Not losing in Greece and Switzerland will be key. I hope a draw in Greece is possible, and I think of all 3 bigger teams Switzerland is most likely to drop points unexpectedly again against one of the minnows. So with a bit of luck the Swiss are out of the race by that last game. Not losing in Athens will be of crucial importance, while winning all home games is a must but I am quite confident in that.

By the way, will Israel travel to Basel or Zurich? I would prefer Zurich as the Basel crowd is notoriously inhostile and noisy, so it will definitely be an easier game if it is in Zurich. Athens will of course be very intimidating atmosphere, but well, so is Ramat Gan. Lets make it an IsraHELL for all visiting teams and get the maximum of points in all remaining home games.
 

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I agree with the analysis both by crackedpleasures and Daweed. First from cracked: I also see Latvia grabbing some points at home against the Swiss or the Greeks. And i agree with you that the senior squad should be the priority even though in this case Kashtan's criteria wasn't very correct IMO.
About Daweed's analysis, Greece kept their base from their 2004 success, but as you said players are a bit old now and their stamina is not the same and to keep their very good tactic skills they will need it. Israel at home always pressures and they will have to run a lot. At home we have all conditions to win and if we wish to advance we msut do it. A win in Tel Aviv will put them in big pressure since they would come from two straight defeats from their two biggest opponents and Israel could take advantage of that.
 
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